In February this year a Round Table Debate held in London brought about some interesting discussion on the topic of how we express ourselves when we are at work. Debate guests questioned why the personalities we manifest at home differentiate from the personalities we take to the office and, if this is the case, why do we feel the need to behave differently? Is it really necessary to do so?

It was concluded between debate guests that there is something engrained within the corporate environment which cultivates the need to behave in a manner that is less yourself and more ‘corporate’. Rachel Humpherson, Interim HR Director, described this environment as something akin to the educational system which relies upon us doing certain things and acting in a certain way in order to achieve. As with school, there are those who do not necessarily click with this and these people tend to find themselves without the same opportunities and achievements. The effect of this, Rachel deciphered, is that, “trying to fit into business means you can lose a sense of who you are”.Oliver Robinson, senior lecturer at the University of Greenwich, states “there is an awful amount of impression management that is required at work, being yourself at work doesn’t work because of a need to put on a front.”

At the debate, David Mason commented on his time at RBS and the difference between staff values at home and the values they had at work. He noted, “the values they had at home were being dropped at the door as soon as they got to the bank which is fundamental if you look at how the bank was treating it’s customers”. Similarly, Matt Elliot found that once values at Northern Rock were addressed and staff were encouraged to be themselves at work, the way staff treated customers significantly improved. It appeared from discussion that whilst your corporate self might prove beneficial internally, it reflects poorly on the company externally and to this Mason concluded, “stop playing the game and bring yourself to work.”

These two contradictory points suggest that a balance is necessary in order to enjoy the benefits of both sides. The Harvard Business Review advises that achieving effective self-disclosure is the solution to this, in other words, showing the ‘right’ amount of personality. The Review suggests doing this by :

  • Know yourself and how you are perceived by others so that you can gage how much is appropriate to share with others. Rosh and Offerman write about the importance of walking people through “their personal and professional histories, their successes and failures, and the lessons they’ve drawn as a result. These exercises can help you choose which are most appropriate to share with others”.
  • Understand the organisational and cultural context of the organisation you work in. The Review states, “In any context, but especially one new to you that involves teammates from other countries, companies, or functions, you should talk to respected insiders about how people operate and what level of candor is expected. HR personnel and group leaders may be able to provide this information, but you can also test the waters with task-relevant self-disclosure to see how people respond.”
  • Lastly, it was suggested that one of the main solutions can be found in leadership. Matt Elliot explained that having met leaders from a range of organisations it appears that their personalities define politics and norms for the rest of the workforce. This is made simpler in smaller organisations where the leaders are still inextricably linked with the day-to-day running of the company. In larger organisations a definitive message must be passed through the company by leadership to set the values for staff. Matt Elliott drew upon the example of Richard Branson’s effect on Virgin Money and the way “he serves as an inspiration to them all because he is a ’ founder' who stands for doing the right thing" in a public way. Thus, solidifying for staff the way they should expect working for a virgin company to be, specifically being unconditionally accepting and supportive of their colleagues from a diversity perspective.

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